1. Penn (21-7, 11-1 Ivy)
Penn shot a blistering 76 percent from two-point range in claiming sole possession of first place in the Ivy League standings with a 74-71 win over Harvard Saturday night at the Palestra. Penn’s AJ Brodeur lured Chris Lewis out of the paint at times, and the Red and Blue attacked the basket when Lewis was on the bench. Brodeur had four assists and no turnovers, with senior guard Darnell Foreman notching five assists on senior night himself.
Penn has now shot a combined 40-for-60 (66.7 percent) from two-point range in two games versus a Harvard defense that characteristically values rim protection and ranks first in the league in defensive two-point percentage (48.1 percent). Not surprisingly, Penn ranks first in the conference in two-point percentage and assists per field goals made. Anyone who’s watched Penn ping pong passes in the paint knows that this team is capable of getting high-percentage shots even against a defense as stout as Harvard’s. That’s something to keep in mind should these squads meet at the Palestra again in the Ivy League Tournament championship game on Mar. 11.
As is his custom, Brodeur was more effective in the second half than the first versus Harvard Friday night, not scoring until 13:44 into the first half and posting 14 second-stanza points amid a 17-point, 12-rebound, four-assist, four-steal performance. Brodeur should be a prime candidate for Ivy Player of the Year, especially if Penn pulls out an Ivy League championship. He’d be the first sophomore to win the award since Cornell guard Louis Dale 10 years earlier, when Penn coach Steve Donahue won his first Ivy title while at the helm in Ithaca. (No rookie has ever won the award.)
Brodeur is vital to what Penn does as a scorer, passer, paint presence and rebounder on offense and as a shot-blocker, pilferer and rebounder on defense. He’s a second-half, crunchtime player who has adjusted superbly to playing at the four alongside another deft passer and defender, Max Rothschild, at the five in the frontcourt this season. Brodeur has been KenPom game MVP in a whopping five league games so far and isn’t done yet.
2. Harvard (15-12, 10-2)
Harvard built a 42-36 lead, its largest advantage on the night, with 18:08 to play but followed that up with turnovers by Christian Juzang and Chris Lewis, Seth Towns splitting a pair of two-point jumpers and a missed Juzang three-pointer. So in a critical juncture of the game when Harvard pulled away, the Crimson cooled off, simultaneously failing to attack the basket.
Harvard shot 10-for-21 (47.6 percent) from three-point range, with Corey Johnson leading the way with a 4-for-9 clip. But the Crimson shot just 46.9 percent from two-point range, nearly 30 percent lower than Penn. Lewis attracted double-teams at times that rendered him less effective than when he gouged Penn for a career-high 25 points back at Lavietes Pavilion on Feb. 10.
In a game with 20 lead changes, Harvard had plenty of opportunities to rely on high-percentage shots by going to Lewis down low but did so sparingly. Lewis attempted just two field goals in the second half.
Towns is a thrill to watch, repeatedly sporting an instant square-up-and-shoot move from outside the elbow at Penn that is essentially unguardable. Justin Bassey is less flashy but just as vital to the Crimson, turning in 27 points, 17 rebounds and five assists this weekend, including a team-high 18 in their 72-66 overtime win at Princeton Friday night.
The Crimson had just an 11.8 percent shot of winning at Jadwin when they trailed 53-46 with 6:01 to go, but they came roaring back with a Danilo Djuricic trey, a three free-throw trip for Towns and back-to-back triples from Bassey for a game-saving 12-5 run over the next 3:08. In other words, Harvard hung in there with long-range shooting. But when its shots don’t fall as they didn’t for much of the second half Saturday night, can Harvard still excel down the stretch at the Palestra, where the Crimson have now lost four straight (including an Ivy tourney semifinal loss to Yale last season)? We may find out soon enough.
Harvard can still nab the No. 1 seed if it registers a sweep along with a Penn loss to Yale, or if Penn loses to Brown and Brown also beats Princeton Friday in addition to Columbia losing to both Dartmouth and Harvard.
3. Yale (14-14, 7-5)
Yale is locked into the Ivy League Tournament as a No. 3 seed, finishing the weekend strong with an 83-73 win at Columbia Saturday night following an 82-80 close shave over Cornell, all sans Makai Mason, who “just tweaked his foot” and will hopefully be able to practice this week, coach James Jones said per NYC Buckets.
Against the Lions, Miye Oni turned in a 24-point second half en route to 26 points, nine rebounds and eight assists (outmatching Mike Smith’s 17-point second half for Columbia.)
Blake Reynolds had a terrific weekend offensively, scoring 37 points on 16-for-25 on 64 shooting in just 51 minutes in both games combined.
Oni’s second-half takeover Saturday night coincided with a 9:46 stretch in which Yale didn’t register a single assist, a rare hiatus for the team that does the dishes more frequently than any other Ivy. Yale had just 12 assists on 28 field goals made in its Ivy tourney semifinal win over Harvard last season, so it’s proven it can win that way too, even without Mason.
Kudos to coach James Jones for leading his team to an 18th straight top-four finish in the conference despite losing both Mason and Jordan Bruner to injury in November. Yale has gotten visibly substantially better as the conference slate has gone on, a credit to all those involved in the program. As Jones alluded to in an episode of Inside Ivy Hoops earlier this month, Trey Phills has been appearing to play with more confidence and role players like Noah Yates and Azar Swain are stepping up, the former hitting the game-winning corner three-pointer at Cornell with 19.6 seconds left to cap off a career-high 17 points.
T4. Columbia (8-17, 5-7)
Another year, another No. 4 ranking shared by another team heading into the final weekend of Ivy play for Columbia.
Columbia has to hit the road again this weekend, at Dartmouth and then Harvard, and could have made things easier on itself with a win over Yale at Levien Gym Saturday night. But Columbia went uncharacteristically cold from deep, a woeful 1-for-12 (0.83 percent) in the first half, contributing to a 10-point halftime deficit that ultimately held up. Quinton Adlesh had an Ivy season-high 20 points in Columbia’s win over Harvard on Feb. 2 and is due for another three-point explosion after making just two treys on 12 attempts all weekend.
The Lions have the inside track here. If Columbia and its travel partner Cornell both split this weekend, the only way Columbia doesn’t get into the tournament is if Cornell beats Harvard but Columbia does not, or if Brown sweeps.
T4. Cornell (11-14, 5-7)
Cornell led Yale 74-69 at home with 3:27 to play but faded from there, culminating in Phills picking off a Matt Morgan mid-court lob out of a double team for an up-and-under layup the other direction to build an 82-78 cushion with 9.9 ticks left.
Then Cornell took care of business versus Brown, overcoming a 47-40 deficit with 13:35 to play on the strength of a nifty eight-point, seven-rebound, four-block, three-steal, two-assist performance from rookie Steven Julian. Also, senior Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof scored a crucial seven points in 12 minutes on senior night in his first game action since Jan. 20.
T6. Brown (11-14, 4-8)
Another season, another mid-Ivy-slate skid for Brown. The Bears have endured five-game Ivy losing streaks in the past three seasons and are sitting at four with Princeton coming to Providence Friday night.
Brown shot a paltry 4-for-20 (20 percent) from deep in an 89-82 loss at Columbia Friday night, a game that featured a whopping 55 fouls, 20 more than when these two teams met 13 days earlier in a contest that went to overtime.
Perhaps the Bears could have toppled Cornell at Newman Arena Saturday night if Desmond Cambridge hadn’t committed three fouls in the first 5:48. Cambridge now has 14 fouls in the last four games and has tallied at least four fouls in eight of 12 Ivy contests.
T6. Princeton (12-15, 4-8)
Princeton snapped its seven-game losing streak with a 64-47 win over Dartmouth, the second straight season it held the Big Green to less than 50 points at Jadwin Gym. But the overtime loss to Harvard despite Myles Stephens’s 33 points was probably a back-breaker. Princeton’s road matchup with Brown Friday is a tossup per KenPom, and the loser will be mathematically eliminated from Ivy tourney contention. (The winner needs to win Saturday night too to even have a shot, and for Princeton, that means winning at Yale.)
8. Dartmouth (6-19, 2-10)
Let’s just say Dartmouth had a bad weekend, losing at Penn and Princeton by a combined 45 points. The only way Dartmouth gets into the Ivy tourney is if everyone wears flannel this weekend.